Hulu’s Peter Naylor on Why Advertisers Should Take a ‘Marketers-First Look’ During Upfronts

Focusing more on the ‘hearts and minds of viewers’

Hulu's Peter Naylor on how mass media has been "pulverized." Austin Hargrave/Hulu
Headshot of B. Bonin Bough

Author, consultant and TV host, Bonin Bough, is our Adweek Advisory Board chairman. He will be spotlighting three Advisory Board members per month on relevant industry news and trends.

I had a chance to sit down with a number of the Adweek Advisory Board members to discuss the future of the upfronts and capture their thoughts on how they’ve changed based on the needs of the consumer. One of the things I learned very quickly is that the upfronts have become less of an opportunity to buy real estate and attention and more of an opportunity to build long-term business partnerships.

I spoke with Peter Naylor, senior vice president and head of advertising sales at Hulu, where he oversees more than $1 billion in ad revenue for one of today’s fastest-growing, innovative entertainment brands to get his thoughts around this year’s upfronts.

Bonin Bough: What is the industry’s most important issue going into this year’s upfront in your opinion?
Peter Naylor: I feel like a lot of people are grappling with the changing face of consumer behavior in a way that they’ve never seen before. The things that have worked in the past have maxed out their effectiveness, and the ceiling is coming down on it. When marketers are being forced to examine [that] the old way is not working the way it used to. We have to look at new ways. The real questions are: How much risk is there in pursuing new ways? What kind of results should I expect in the new ways? Are the new ways safe for me? Can I measure these new ways? It all boils down to that consumers have totally taken control of mass media. Now they’re in charge.

People say that mass media’s been fragmented. I think it’s been pulverized. Because consumers expect and want personalized and on-demand media experiences, so they’re completely individualized. With all of that control, we see, again, this long, slow shift from the old to the new. Marketers are trying to just reassemble the audiences they care about and get their head around it. I think that’s the biggest thing that people are looking at.

Don’t forget, an upfront is all about partnerships and scarcity and trying to make sure that, if you’re a marketer and you have a good idea of what you want, you want to walk into it with your biggest partners. That’s what’s really happening in the upfront.

With that in mind, what is the biggest way that this year’s upfront negotiations will be different than last year’s?
I think, in Hulu’s case, we’re doing much more multidimensional kinds of deals. We’re not just talking about dollar buying, commitments and rate of change on the CPM. We’re talking about programmatic buying and selling and transactions. We’re talking about attribution measurements. Talking about how we come up with different kinds of models.

A lot of people care about their [what] people buy for their reasons, so sometimes I like to say that we’re happy to transact on CPMs, but frankly, each and every deal we’re transacting on what I call “CPWs.” It means “cost per whatever,” and it’s whatever they want to measure. Downloads, exposures, tickets sold, brand lifts, message association. … Let’s just have a minimal approach and a customer-centric approach because people buy for their reasons, not ours.

Again, I expect a more multidimensional upfront in light of the fact that marketers are getting much more sophisticated about what and how they need to transact and market.

If there is one thing that you could change about the upfronts, what would it be and why?
Hmm. Let’s see. That’s a great question. I think I would just love everybody to remember that marketing is about solving people’s business problems. If we continue to put our marketers’ business problems first and don’t get lost in the weeds of procurement, I think that’s good for the end customer who’s trying to solve their business problems through marketing.

Everything is about the lens you look through. Who do we always look through? The viewer’s lens. We take a viewer-first look at everything we do for content and a viewer-first look at everything we do for advertising. I think, if anything, I’d love everybody to always [take] a marketer-first look. Again, [with] the agencies … a lot of times, we get lost in procurement and spreadsheets when we’ve got to think about the hearts and the minds of viewers.

Bonin Bough, a former digital executive at Mondelez International, is author of the book Txt Me and host of CNBC's Cleveland Hustles. He is also a member of the Adweek Advisory Board.